Ten years on, The Trip finally comes to an end—not a moment too soon, and maybe a bit too late.
Nothing much has changed in this fourth Trip movie, which has once again been edited down to about two hours from a longer BBC-TV series. The setup is the same: a tour of fancy Continental restaurants by two showbiz Brits, one a preening writer-actor with a clutch of BAFTA awards to his credit, the other a mere "TV funnyman," who's never allowed by his more successful friend to forget that fact. The stars, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing trenchantly stylized versions of themselves and improvising their quick, peppery banter, are still good company, and still excellent celebrity mimics, too—their great if overexposed dueling impressions of Michael Caine have wisely been retired, but this time out we get Werner Herzog, Anthony Hopkins and (in an inspired bit) Ray Winstone playing Henry VIII. So, no complaints in that department. There are other problems, though.
The boys are once again wheeling around Europe at the behest of The Observer, the British weekly, which has assigned Coogan, the better-known of the two men, to do Greece this time, dining out along the route taken by Odysseus in returning to his home in Ithaca after the siege of Troy some 10 centuries ago. On the way, he and Rob are expected to consume pricy expense-account meals at several of the finest, or at least costliest, restaurants in Greece. There are tougher gigs.
However, while food porn was a key ingredient in the series' earlier excursions to Italy, Spain, and the North of England, now the intermittent kitchen visits we see feel a little wan—a lamb chop here, a sautéed tomato there. In one scene set in an open-air restaurant overlooking the Aegean, director Michael Winterbottom concentrates unmistakably on the comings and goings of a pretty waitress in snug summer shorts. This is so out of character for the series that it briefly pulls you away from the story.
The ancient-history aspect of Coogan's assignment is just a peg on which to hang a standard newspaper travel feature, of course. But Coogan-the-character uses it to parade his knowledge of Homer, something to which Brydon is cheerfully oblivious. Coogan also makes casual mention of his country estate in Sussex and the nine automobiles he owns (it's okay—one's a hybrid!). But as we've learned in previous installments of the series, all is not entirely well in Coogan's world. Unlike Rob, who's happily married with two little kids, Steve is a divorced father with a wounded-looking teenage son (Timothy Leach) and a low-wattage love life. And there are the usual professional indignities, as well—we see him in one scene on the phone with his agent, receiving the unhappy news that a prestige director he'd auditioned for has rejected him for a part in his next film.
The movie accumulates a downbeat mood as it goes along, which tends to smother the laughs. Intimations of mortality have been coded into this franchise from the beginning, but even with Steve and Rob now in their fifties, the brooding strains of a Philip Glass violin concerto seem much too dark for the picture. Also, a brief, awkward stop at a barbed-wired refugee camp trivializes a serious issue for no reason whatsoever.
The Trip to Greece has sufficient charm to make it worth a watch. But it's easy to see why Coogan and Brydon have decided to bring the series to an end. Given the direction in which it seems to be headed, the next destination might have had to be a place no one's in any hurry to get to.